A “Red Shirt” protest leader escaped a Bangkok hotel by climbing down a rope on Friday shortly after security forces surrounded the hotel in a bid to arrest those leading anti-government demonstrations.
AFP - Thai commandos stormed a Bangkok hotel Friday where leaders of the Red Shirt protest movement were holed up, but the mission ended in dramatic failure after the suspects managed to flee.
One leading Red Shirt climbed down an electric cable from the third floor of the hotel in Bangkok's northern outskirts before being rushed away by jubilant supporters, despite the presence of dozens of riot police nearby.
The bungled attempt to arrest several Red Shirt leaders came days after the army tried in vain to clear an area of the capital of anti-government demonstrators in an operation that sparked the country's deadliest civil unrest in 18 years.
Coverage from Bangkok
As special forces surrounded the SC Park Hotel, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban announced to the nation in a televised address that the authorities were swooping on "terrorists" and their leaders hiding inside the building.
But the government later admitted the mission had failed and the red-clad movement said all of their leaders had escaped, vowing to turn up the heat on embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
"Police kicked the door open and threw smoke and stun grenades into the room, but luckily I ran to the window and used an electric cord to climb down," said Red Shirt leader Arisman Pongruangrong.
"Now our mission is to hunt down Abhisit and Suthep. Our patience is at its limit," he said at the main rally stage in the commercial district in the heart of the Thai capital.
The Reds say the area will be the scene of the "final round" in their fight to overthrow the government.
The authorities urged thousands of protesters massed in the district to leave the area, warning that they were ready to take "decisive measures" following last weekend's clashes that left 23 people dead.
Elsewhere in the capital, thousands of pink-clad pro-government demonstrators rallied outside the army base where Abhisit was based, calling on the authorities to take action against the Reds.
Arrest warrants have been issued for many of the Red Shirt leaders, including Arisman, who was involved in the storming of parliament earlier this month.
The mostly poor and rural red-clad supporters of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra have staged mass rallies for a month, charging that the government is illegitimate because it came to power in 2008 after a court ousted Thaksin's allies from power.
Two police officers were taken by the protesters from the hotel to the rally site and briefly interrogated by Red Shirts, but they later told reporters that they had not been taken hostage but wanted to ensure Arisman's safety.
Abhisit has blamed "terrorists" for inciting last weekend's violent street clashes, which sparked bloody gun battles in the heart of the capital.
The Reds have challenged the government's assertion that there were M16 and AK47 assault rifles among the protesters.
The army has said live shots were fired only in the air or by troops providing cover for soldiers who were themselves under fire.
The authorities have said they will not try to put down peaceful rallies but have urged the Reds to leave the commercial district, where they have disrupted traffic and caused major shopping centres to close.
Leaders of the red movement have said there is no point in further talks and continue to press their demands for immediate elections in a protest movement that has damaged Thailand's vital tourist industry.
Negotiations last month between the two sides ended in stalemate after the Reds rejected the government's offer to hold polls at the end of the year.
The government, which imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas a week ago, has accused Thaksin of stoking the unrest.
Drawing on their emergency powers, the authorities called in 60 former civil servants, ex-politicians and businessmen to the army base where Abhisit is working to answer questions about the situation, a government spokesman said.
Date created : 2010-04-16